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For both small and large manufacturers, integrating automated machining processes can decrease costs while improving productivity, flexibility and product quality. However, smaller shops often struggle with the question of just how much automation is necessary for their operation. That’s why these shops often integrate automation incrementally. A case in point is Pfeifer Industries in Naperville, Illinois. The two-man operation started with a turn/mill machine fed by a gantry robot and soon moved to automated, on-machine part measurement. This has allowed the company to not only increase efficiency, but also run lights-out by ensuring part accuracy during unattended production.
Pfeifer specializes in mechanical power transmission components. In 2004, the company underwent a dramatic transition when its founder unexpectedly passed away. Brian Nass, a longtime employee, and Jim Donovan, a family friend, decided to purchase the shop. Having spent more than 15 years at Pfeifer, Mr. Nass possessed the machining knowledge necessary to manage the production side of the business. Mr. Donovan, on the other hand, had experience in running front-house operations such as accounting and engineering.
“I knew the key to being successful was getting the shop up and running as quickly as possible,” Mr. Donovan says. “Brian and I wear all the hats necessary to run Pfeifer Industries as a lean manufacturing and distribution company.”
Initially, the new owners were able to reestablish the company with its existing technology and equipment. Soon, however, it became apparent that the production process needed an overhaul to keep up with customer demand. With jobs consisting of a wide variety of parts in small batch sizes, the shop needed quicker setup times and higher productivity. . . .
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